The reason God gives us his name Print
Sunday scripture column

Jem Sullivan

Sunday, March 24

Third Sunday of Lent

Ex 3:1-8, 13-15
Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11
1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12
Lk 13:1-9

One of the first gifts we receive on entering the world is a name. With a name, unique to each individual, we are welcomed into a family and the human community.

A name, given at birth, conveys the identity and essence of a person and encapsulates the story and purpose of each person's life.

When we reveal our name to another, we become accessible to them, we are capable of being addressed, known, and loved as a person.

Even in extreme conditions of inhumanity, such as war, violence, and exploitation, a person's name expresses their identity, their God-given dignity and worth.

One of the astonishing claims of Christianity is that God has a name. God is a divine person with a name, not an anonymous force behind the created world. And this divine name was revealed by God himself.

God's name is not a human invention, it is revealed in sacred Scripture in the context of God's encounter with the people of Israel.

God's revealed name conveys who God is and gives insight into what we know about God. Most importantly, because God reveals his name, we are capable of knowing, loving, and serving God.

In the first reading, we enter into that mysterious event when the divine name is revealed to Moses in the theophany of the burning bush. God calls Moses by name. Moses first hears his name as he approaches the burning bush. The encounter of God and humanity is intensely personal because it is an encounter of love. God addresses us as a person with a name, not as an object to be moved by an abstract, benign force.

In God's awe-inspiring personal presence, we discover both our personal dignity and our insignificance.

God then reveals to Moses his identity and plans for Israel. He is the God of the fathers of Israel, faithful and compassionate, who remembers and keeps his promises.

God is the one who witnesses their affliction and hears their cry of complaint. He comes to rescue them from oppression.

Only a divine person could work such redeeming acts; an impersonal force cannot love in this way.

Moses' encounter with God continues with the revelation of the divine name, "I Am." The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that this divine, ineffable name contains the truth that God alone is the fullness of being and of every perfection, without origin and without end.

As God called Moses by name, God calls us by name into existence and into friendship with him. Lent is the graced time to hear God's merciful voice calling us once again by name. to respond in faith, in hope, and in love.

Jem Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.